There was a time when I had it in my head that I would go to grad school and come out with a degree and teach and write books. After the first year in my first parish, I was sure this was what I wanted to do. The congregation had been split and things were tough – not to mention I was green – and if I had some money to pay for it all, that would have been my first option. But I stayed in the parish. A few more years of saying Mass and preaching, introducing a new hymnal, and vigorously teaching the Lutheran faith, and, well, grad school seemed more and more distant. A few more years and the whole idea of giving up the altar and pulpit in favor of a classroom seemed goofy for me.
I always thought I wanted to teach and write and then I discovered that I wanted to teach in the classroom of the parish and not of some college or seminary and what I wanted to write were things like sermons, newsletter articles, and the like. In short, I thought that the parish was a means to an end and found out that it was the end I had been searching for all my life. I fell in love with the parish ministry, with the things of worship planning and leading, with standing at the altar and in the pulpit, with holding in my arms the children marked for God’s kingdom in baptism, with bringing new people on board with what Lutheran Christians believe, teach and confess, with unfolding Scripture to people who desired to know its voice more clearly, and with the ordinary and mundane of sick and shut-in visits and congregational governance. As with any love affair, there are still many frustrations, complaints, and things I do not like to do... but when someone in my parish calls me “Pastor” and holds my hand to say “Thank you” it makes all the things I do not like worthwhile and all the things I love even more meaningful.
The greatest of my regrets have to do with where this ministry of Word and Sacrament has taken place and the distance my wife and children have endured from their family (and mine). I so often lament that my kids did not grow up in the wonderful context of small town, rural, America. It is not that I thought they suffered by their time in New York or Tennessee but that they did not know what my wife and I knew growing up – it was different for them.
I have been given many opportunities. I have been privileged to know many important and impressive folks as friends, teachers, and mentors. I have been allowed to participate in things that involved and defined things having to do with worship, witness, and administration on the parish, circuit, district, and Synod level. Many folks who are far smarter and much more capable than I am have deigned to call me friend. I have written much for the Church (not so much on an academic level but on a practical level and thousands and thousands have sung hymns I wrote or used liturgical resources I put together).
It just goes to show you that what we think at the beginning of our lives may change dramatically as long as we listen to the voice of the Spirit speaking through people of faith and the mouth of the Church. In the end it is not about being pulled somewhere I did not think I wanted to go but learning to appreciate and even to love the place where the Church put me. I am not sure what you call it, but I think it is a measure of wisdom that has come with some age and experience in the faith. I hope that I am not alone...
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